|Steve MacIntyre knocks out Raitis Ivanans of the Flames on opening night. (Photo by Andy Devlin / Edmonton Oilers Hockey Club) |
Finding a fight has never been a problem for Steve MacIntyre. "I was in the minors for a long time and there are a few more guys down there that are willing to go," he says. "That's their job, that's what they're there for." In the NHL, however, there are far fewer positions held by the heavyweight who is anchored to the bench for 59 minutes a game and only hits the sheet when there's a so-called "staged fight" to be had with another heavy.
In the best league in the world, you've got to be able to play a little bit to earn your games and your ice. That means, for a fighter of MacIntyre's calibre, there are fewer guys that are capable of holding their own against him and fewer guys that are desperate to fight him to justify their job.
"It's the first time I've been in this situation and I'm learning," MacIntyre told me today. "I've never had a situation where guys have been thinking twice about (fighting me). So, I have to go out there and be more assertive. I need to take the bull by the horns and run a few guys and set the tone that way."
And that's where it gets a little bit tricky. MacIntyre, for all his character and fighting ability, has deficincies in his game that hold the coach back from being able to play him more than a few minutes on most nights.
Most of that, of course, is related to his foot speed, which also impacts his ability to close in on body-checks and instigate fights that way. The other part of it, as relayed today by Coach Renney, is that MacIntyre needs to continue to improve his understanding of the team game.
"He's gotta show me that he can play, that he can participate within the structure of the game plan," said Renney. "We're starting with a pretty raw guy who hasn't had a lot of opportunity prior to this year to be a player. We have 8 games left and I want Mac to play them and be a player in them. We want to make sure that we give Steve the chance to improve, and I believe he is improving."
For his part, MacIntyre isn't caught off guard when asked about his need to improve as a hockey player. He understands the nature of the game is different at the elite level, and understands that in order to be around to stand up for his teammates, he's got to make sure the coaching staff has enough confidence to play him on at least a semi-regular basis.
"I think long term it's my goal to gradually get better every practice and to be able to keep up to the guys and get to my hits," says MacIntyre. "I don't want to run around out of position, but I want to keep my feet moving. That's part of being a big guy. It's a bit harder to get going and get those big pops, but it's something I have to work on and I'm willing to put the work in."
As far as last night is concerned, Tom Renney sensed a missed opportunity for MacIntyre to make an impact. It started with, he said, Jim Vandermeer's decision to fight Cam Janssen. It's tough not to respect the fantastic fight that Vandermeer put forward, and there's certainly a history between the two players, but Renney would have preferred Vandermeer to decline the fight and let Janssen know that MacIntyre would be by later to take care of it.
I also think Renney took notice of the shift late in the game were Blues coach Davis Payne had Janssen back on the ice in a 4-0 game with MacIntyre sitting in the penalty box. That's not likely to be forgotten when the teams hook up next season. That said, prior to that, MacIntyre had 5:29 of ice time, well above his seasonal average, that he could have used to make an impact. If nobody wants to voluntarily take the option to fight him, MacIntyre's goal is to improve his game to the point where he can become more involved in the play and take that option away.
His teammates love him, his work ethic is tireless, and he's already among the best in the world at what he does best. Those are ingredients that MacIntyre, and the Oilers, hope will translate into an increasingly effective weapon.
Author: Dan Tencer